The Foregone Conclusion
Misato Katsuragi carefully put her coffee cup down. Stared at it.
"Why?" she finally said.
Not three days had passed since the destruction of the 64th Angel. Major Katsuragi and Doctor Akagi were in the latter's office. The doctor has just informed the Major that her ward, Asuka Langley Sohryu, will be suspended from piloting duty indefinitely.
"She's approaching the limit of usefulness," Ritsuko explained. "Look..."
She brought up an image on her computer. Black screen, two white lines side by side, indented and embossed. It was easy to see that both lines fit together, a cavity in one corresponding to a protrusion in the other.
"This is a graphical representation of the core-pilot relationship for the Unit One and the Third Child," Ritsuko explained. "Every deviation from a single straight line - perfect and instantaneous synchronization - represents stress on the pilot or the Eva. Shinji's graph represents a statistically insignificant amount of stress. I've had to magnify it in order to illustrate how the system represents errors. Now, this is Asuka's graph..."
The Second Child's graph was different. Jagged. The side representing the core's connections was malformed, composed of not only of steep peaks, but areas where the line folded back on itself, intersecting what had come just before and forming chaotic squiggles and crude geometric shapes. But all that strangeness was nothing compare to the amount of deviation on Asuka's side of things, and for a moment Misato had to look away.
"That is Asuka?" she asked, gesturing blindly to one side of the screen, staring at a random bit of equipment installed in the corner of Ritsuko's office.
"Yes, this is from the last harmonics test."
"I..." Misato closed her eyes. "Harmonics test." That was a matter conducted without any direct interaction between pilot and core. Project E used the tests to fine-tune the technology in the entry plug to each individual pilot.
Asuka had not been exposed to the core when the measurements on Ritsuko's screen had been taken – when her white line had been 'drawn'. But the core's influence was visible anyway. Misato stared at the screen now, teeth unconsciously bared, hands curled into shaking fists.
Asuka's line was warped. Like the core, it was almost all dips and peaks, though Asuka's line sloped into curves instead of jagged points. Where the core descended into chaotic squiggles, the girl's line bowed outward in a plateau that ran the length of the chaos. It did not fold back on itself as the core did, but that line was Asuka. And it was supposed to be straight.
"It took Asuka five years of training to achieve such a high rate of synchronization," Ritsuko said, not quite facing Misato, probably quite aware that the other woman was probably looking for something to hit her with. "The core information was damaged, you see. Barely viable. If the German Branch had not insisted on a national pilot, Asuka never would have been allowed to become one."
"Why does," Misato tried to get it out, ended with a short, mirthless laugh. Because she really did not need Ritsuko to tell her why Asuka's mind was not a simple straight line. This new information slotted neatly into everything Misato knew or suspected about the Second Child. The girl was warped. And now Misato knew why.
"If she continues to pilot," Doctor Akagi continued in a voice that, to Misato, seemed damnably detached, "she will become psychologically distinct from humanity. Prolonged separation from the core may allow her mind to recover."
May. May may may recover. Misato Katsuragi needed a 'will' and she needed it now.
"I wanted to consult with you before I submitted my report, as a courtesy..."
"Why did you wait this long?" Misato interrupted, her voice above a whisper, but only just.
Ritsuko said nothing. Misato spun to face her. The blond doctor avoided eye contact.
"This line," the Major gestured to the monitor, "is my ward. She is my responsibility and..."
Katsuragi sagged in the chair.
"How long have you know about this?" she asked. Because if this was something new, if this was something Ritsuko had uncovered recently, that was different. But.
"The psychiatrist assigned to her in Germany suggested that exposure to Eva was..."
"Years!" the Major hissed, then "How many years, then?"
"Once I established that there was a tangible problem, we began screening her periodically," Ritsuko said, jaw tight. This was not exactly a direct answer, so she probably meant 'since Asuka had arrived in Japan' – nearly two years ago!
"Tests were performed, first during every medical checkup, and more recently, once a week."
Silence stretched out.
"She... failed the test yesterday," Akagi said this quietly, in a tone that suggested they were talking about something fatal, something that had grown in a dark, unknown place and metastasized and was even now spreading through Asuka Langley Sohryu.
"What does that mean." The tension was passing through Misato in waves. Muscles flexing, relaxing.
"The test was originally designed to measure cognitive development in infants..." Ritsuko stopped. Misato realized her nostrils were flaring and that she had, while the doctor talked, been slowing leaning forward and coiling herself up. Preparing to strike. To punish.
"Misato..." Ritsuko began.
The Major did not move. Her eyes were glassy, and staring not at Ritsuko, but through her.
"What does it mean, that she failed the test?" the voice was Misato's own, but coming from far away. Because, again, she could already feel out the answer. And she was thinking back, over the last week, the last month, the last year. Trying to remember Asuka. Trying to see what Ritsuko was about to suggest.
"Repeated synchronization with Unit Two's core has caused the Second Child's cognitional development to regress," Ritsuko said. "And it has recently reached the point where... she isn't... she isn't really self-aware anymore."
Misato breathed in. Waited for Ritsuko to make it all right. Waited. Waited. Breathed out.
"You are dead," the Major said tonelessly, slouching to her feet, turning on the spot. "Asuka will never forgive me for this, and I'll never forgive you for keeping her condition from me."
"Come on Major!" Akagi made a halfway convincing play at exasperation. "Without Unit Two, we would not have survived the first year. We needed her to..."
"From this moment," the Major interrupted, pausing at the office door, her voice breaking, "I a-am against you in every way. We are not f-friends. We are not colleagues. If your division wants to talk with mine, go ahead, we both have people for that."
And then the Major was gone.
Asuka sneezed. Shinji glanced up from his cooking and walked over with a box of tissues. The girl only glared at him. Wordlessly, the Third Child returned to his task.
The Second Child was trying to do homework. Should have been a simple thing, but she was having problems. Asuka Langley Sohryu, college graduate, had been staring at a high-school physics proof for five minutes now. Variables and constants shifted in her mind, eluding reason.
And she was aware of Shinji. Aware that he was hearing her not do this stupid, simple homework. And she was aware, yes, that he had finished this same problem already, before leaving school.
He was just a simulation though, she assured herself. Shinji Ikari was just a program with a convincing human facade. He was an emulation application resting on a boy-shaped bubble of space and time and heat.
She looked down at her textbook, a German nursery rhyme playing in her head, over and over.
Shinji Ikari cooked, tossing the rice to force a slight, crunchy burn, while making sure the curry did notcurdle.
Of late, he had been experimenting with some expensive ingredients. Misato had finally gotten around to giving him direct access to his bank account, and there was nothing else he cared to spend money on. He liked it, actually. The idea that he was buying stuff with his own money and then turning it into something to give to his roommates.
Tonight Shinji was cooking something new. Asparagus, grown down in southern Japan bog-country. He was worried about getting it right. The twelve stalks had been soaking in water all day, but still seemed stiff after ten minutes of simmer. He was setting the stove at a higher setting, knowing it was foolhardy to force a boil, when a pair of hands snaked around his waist.
He is not real, Asuka thought as she pulled Shinji down the hall.
He is just a thing, like everything else. Does not need anything. Just exist, just be there. And be hard.
Asuka rode the him for fifteen minutes before climaxing. Shinji was safely encased in a condom, and did little but lie there and take it. He had only managed to come with Asuka once, during their first time, back when he thought they were doing something important. Something like sex, or love, or whatever.
But in the aftermath of that first night, when Asuka had yanked herself free and dried herself off on his covers, then staggered off the bed and out of the room, Shinji had come to understand... well, nothing, honestly. Their relationship was not a relationship. Their secret was not a secret. Asuka did not talk during the act, and had never made spoken reference to it. The whole thing was a great, neutral intensity that settled onto Shinji's mind when he had nothing else to occupy it. Her mechanical motions atop him were a lewd riddle with no answer. The wetness on his lap when she was done was simply fact.
In weak moments an image of that first night, of him smearing a kiss across Asuka's tight and unresponsive lips, flashed through Shinji's mind reminding him that, all evidence to the contrary, he was still somehow a child.
And now, in the present, she was finishing up. Arching her back, a ring of muscle inside her tightening around Shinji, moaning and digging her fingers into his shoulders aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand done. The girl seemed to collapse into herself, head hanging down, hair spilling down his chest, hiding her face from view.
And now she would get off him, with that sound of shucked fruit, gather up her clothing, and trot off. Then she would take a bath, change, and probably watch television until she fell asleep on the couch. While she was doing all that, Shinji would be smearing anti-biotic salve on any new scratches – because physical privacy of any kind was absolutely out of the question when you piloted Eva – and putting the bedsheets into wash, because he could not get any kind of sleep with her smell still on them. While the wash was running – and assuming Asuka had cleared out of the washroom – he would take a shower and have a quick soak. After that, he'd switch the bedsheets to the dryer and have a light snack or dinner, depending on the time of night. He would also drink several cans of Misato's beer, as many as it took to calm him down. Then, when the dryer had cycled, he would put the sheets back on his bed and lay on it and stare at the ceiling and feel nothing at all through the alcoholic haze. If he had gone through two or more cans of beer, he'd probably just heap the covers on the floor and lay in them and try not to vomit.
That was how it went. That was how it had gone the last seventeen – or was it eighteen? – times they had done it. Just sit still and take it. That was all she wanted from him.
But Asuka was not pulling herself off him this time. The naked girl was not moving at all. And... something. A slight sensation on his chest, below the hair. A single point of pressure that moved down and to the side, following the contour of his body. Slowly, he pulled his hands from under her thighs and parted Asuka's hair. She was crying. Smiling and crying. And her eyes were showing a lot of white, because she was bent forward but looking straight ahead. Even when the hair had been blocking out everything else her eyes had still stared level forward. At him. Her lips were moving but only a terrible whisper was coming out, just loud enough for Shinji to be sure that she wasn't actually saying anything at all.
Misato arrived home thirty minutes later, just as Shinji had finished repairing the inevitable consequences of leaving cooking unattended for any length of time. Asuka had finally gotten off him and pulled on her panties, leaving the rest of her clothes for Shinji to deposit in the washroom hamper. The encounter had left him empty and, for the first time, disgusted. Her expression at the end. Like one of those horror movie ghosts that killed people by crawling out of televisions. She was a slim, beautiful girl with bright blue eyes and red-orange hair... and she was also monstrous.
He tried to push it back, leave it for later, for his bedroom ceiling. But he. He was going to have to talk with Asuka. About the fucking. About... everything he had been too scared to ask before. That wordless intensity was weighing down on him harder than ever, the memory of the act too much to bear. Those eyes staring at him, eyes that were bloodshot and dark, the pupils so big there was only a thin ring of blue visible... He pushed the image down. Concentrated on finishing his cooking, preparing the meal. Now was not the time. Soon, but not now.
Dinner was not unpleasant, despite everything weighing on Shinji's mind. The asparagus had turned out fine – apparently a wild boil was exactly what was required to soften it up. The curry – a mushroom teriyaki in mild brine – was good as well. None of this was surprising, since Shinji was an excellent cook, but Misato still complimented him in the course of their dinner small talk. Asuka said that the rice was not dry enough, but had no other complaint, which was a compliment in itself coming from her.
Misato asked them about how the day had gone, and while both Children had answers, she seemed to pay more attention to Asuka. Maybe Shinji was just imagining it because he was rather fixated on the problem of Asuka himself... But then the meal ended and the small talk ceased and the Major announced that Asuka would not be piloting anymore.
And the red head was on her feet at once, her knee hitting the table and knocking over one of the tall glasses they used. Shinji caught it and righted it, without thinking.
"What are you talking about?" the girl shrieked.
Misato stood too, took a step toward the girl, then seemed to think better of it. "We think it is damaging you," she said.
"Bullshit!" Asuka's head whipped back and forth, a cyclone of hair. "This is what I do! This is..." and then she looked at Shinji. Looked at him like a horror movie ghost. Looked to Misato. "Punishment? A punishment!"
Shinji had scooted away from the table. Now he left the chair and retreated into the kitchen. He had no words. Could think of nothing intelligent to say. Could not react beyond simple preservation.
"This is was right!" Asuka continued to shriek, clutching one side of her face. "Is a what you wanted! Is a given!"
Shinji shrank away. Was she really not making sense, or had the intensity that had been sitting on his brain finally cracked it open? His vision tunneled in on her and that single bloodshot, dilated eye.
He... he wanted Unit One. Needed to be inside it.
This was. Asuka. She was like an Angel.
Enemy. Enemy. Enemy.
Misato watched the girl scream herself out, preparing to get between her and Shinji if need be. The language breakdown was disturbing. Was this Asuka having trouble with Japanese because she was angry, or was she having trouble with language in general? She was saying something about giving to Shinji, something Misato could not follow, but the Third Child apparently understood enough of it. When the girl took a menacing step forward, he bolted up and into the entrance corridor, smacking at the light switch and cowering in the dim.
"Ten years life mother" the girl screamed, and Misato felt a ball of ice in her stomach. Had Asuka just called her... "mother down dead and for it. For Unit Two. My. Mine!" The knot in Misato's gut released. Asuka had just been talking about her mother. Her real mother.
The girl trailed off, wincing. Pressed both hands to her face. Silence.
"I waste ten years of my life!" she started up again in a full-on shriek. "I get my arms and legs chopped off. My insiders. My insides smashed. And you thing mine. Think. My Unit Two. Is damaging me!"
"Can you hear yourself, Asuka?" Misato quickly put in. "You're okay, all right? We just have to keep you out of Unit Two for a little while and..."
"Akagi bitch that test," Asuka slurred. "Failed admissions standardized test. Berkley or Harvard..." She trailed off in German, swaying on her feet as she spat out a seemingly random sequence of words in her native tongue. She grabbed her chair back. Was clearly having trouble staying upright.
"Gone. Depart. Deported," Asuka reverted to Japanese, managed a drunken glare at Misato. "Go ahead and deport me, bitch."
And then the Second Child collapsed.
Misato checked Asuka's pulse and, after a moment's thought, got the first-aid kit from under the sink and pricked the girl's finger with a oneshot blood glucose monitor. Too much to ask, really, for Asuka to experience a hitherto unsuspected diabetic episode the day after she had failed Akagi's little test but.
But Misato wanted so much for this to be something she could understand. Something people had written books about. Held charity benefits for. The mania, the rambling, the slurring, it could have been a diabetic episode, right? Nothing to do with the structures of reason falling apart in this poor girl's head...
The blood glucose monitor beeped, informing Misato that her ward had not suddenly developed diabetes.
Cold and quiet and more furious than she had been at any point in her life, Misato Katsuragi picked up the limp, breathing body that maybe wasn't Asuka Langley Sohryu anymore, carried it to Asuka's room and put it to bed.
Back in the kitchen the Major cracked open a beer and quickly drained it. Followed that can with another, then went to where Shinji was in the darkened entrance corridor. The boy looked up at her, manic and terrified. Misato sat down next to him and crack open a third can of beer and took a swig, then passed it to Shinji. The boy emptied it in four long gulps. Misato could tell this was not his first time doing it.
Silence. Shinji stared ahead. Sweating. Arms around his legs. Misato touched his shoulder and when he did not flinch away, pulled him into a hug.
"I need," he said. Stopped. Pulled away. "There's something I need to tell you."